Fatigue Management

In March 2024, Legal Lines5 MinutesBy Danielle BestonApril 13, 2024

Fatigue might seem like a minor concern, yet it costs companies millions of dollars each year in excess costs, accidents and errors, as well as burdens on society as a whole.

The social expense for fatigue-related crashes in 2019 was $283 million. Employers are responsible under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to provide and maintain a work environment where employees are not exposed to hazards. Fatigue is a hazard, and an employee suffering from fatigue is a hazard to other employees.

This month, I want to highlight the importance of recognising fatigue indicators to help avoid workplace accidents and potential risks to public safety. Everybody is responsible for ensuring that no driver is allowed to drive while fatigued, and every driver should be aware of its symptoms. Fatigue is more than being tired – it’s physical or mental exhaustion to the extent that people are no longer effective or safe at work.

Causes of fatigue

Operators must manage the work environment so that fatigue does not become an issue for workers. Incidents can be minor, such as clipped mirrors or broken tail lights, or lead to major damage, such as injury or death.

With an understanding of fatigue, incorporating knowledge into workplace culture and looking out for signs of exhaustion in staff, all of these types of incidents are avoidable. A workplace environment should also promote a safe space for workers to speak to managers or co-workers and express any concerns of fatigue. The list below contains some common causes that you should be aware of:

  • Body-clock factors Working when you would typically be asleep or sleeping when you would typically be awake.
  • Sleep factors Getting less than the typical amount of sleep.
  • Work factors Working long or extended hours. No recovery from work. Unrealistic schedules with limited break times. Lack of safety culture discussing how to discourage fatigue.
  • Health factors Medical sleep problems. General health and lifestyle issues. Stress levels.

Indicators of fatigue

Tiredness-related collisions are three times more likely to result in death or serious injury. A fatigued driver is less able to judge how tired they are, meaning they are at risk of continuing to drive without realising how bad their performance is. Experiencing any of the symptoms below indicates to a driver that their performance has already been affected by fatigue and they need to take a break of at least 15 minutes to reduce their fatigue levels:

  • restlessness
  • blinking frequently
  • yawning
  • excessive speed changes
  • braking too late
  • drowsiness
  • centre-line drift.

Managing fatigue

Proactively investing in staff is important. Under health and safety regulations, operators are required to ensure that they identify and manage risk proportionately; this includes any risk to their own workforce and other road users from poor driving behaviour. Here are tips to incorporate when encouraging safe driving:

  • practical schedules and rosters that allow drivers to adhere to work time requirements taking required breaks
  • using technological advances, such as fatigue detection or drive cams, to improve safety and efficiency
  • identifying rest areas, facilities and any services needed, such as accommodation, food stops and rest areas
  • ensuring you and your drivers understand and comply with work-time rules and rest-time requirements
  • checking that drivers are not taking medication that might contribute to fatigue
  • being aware of whether a driver has other employment and ensuring this is taken into consideration
  • educating and supporting life management skill development, such as taking action where a health issue is suspected to have an effect and ensuring adequate time off for rest is given
  • encouraging good-quality sleep, healthy meals, exercise and seeking medical help where necessary
  • providing access to facilities and considering health and comfort in vehicles, e.g. seating, controls, equipment and low noise levels
  • having a safe driving policy to help manage work-related road safety and keep employees and vehicles safe on the road.